The Malaysia Airlines flight 17 tragedy is a new chapter in a conflagration that has cost more than 1,500 lives on both sides and displaced 100,000 civilians. It is a horrible, tragic waste. And it is the result of a conflict unleashed by the competing interests of the rich oligarchs in the region and the international jostling of Russia and the West.
It is a conflict between a new right wing regime in Kiev, eager to consolidate its rule and egged on by the US and the EU, and a group of armed adventurers eager to carve out their own space of influence by military means, looking toward and cautiously encouraged by Russia. The mass of ordinary people in Ukraine do not strongly back one side or the other, and largely stand by and attempt to deal with the path of destruction cut through their cities by the war.
The deaths resulting from the wars and battles perpetrated by the rich and powerful playing out their deadly rivalry are always quickly co-opted. Nothing, after all, should happen in vain. No tragedy is without a use for a cynical parasite. In this case, it’s about the EU, the US and their allies like Australia countering Russia’s geopolitical manoeuvres. Russia has of course blamed Ukraine as the rest of the world blamed Russia, but its propaganda machine is outclassed.
Western leaders were quick to condemn the disaster and the deaths of those on MH17. Platitudes about lives lost are bitterly Orwellian, coming out of the mouths of the likes of refugee-torturer-in-chief Tony Abbot or Game-of-Drones Obama. Israel’s genocidal massacre of the population of Gaza has provoked no strongly worded condemnation from Obama, Abbott or Cameron and no calls for international sanctions. It’s okay if a friend does it, apparently.
The propaganda war has centred on the Western claim that the conflict was concocted by Russia, as against Russia’s portrayal of it as a strictly internal civil war. Both sides are full of it: Russia with its gaping hole in the Russian-Ukrainian border, filtering arms and personnel; the US and EU so eager to use the Ukrainian regime to counter Russian influence that they were prepared to look the other way as schools and hospitals across eastern Ukraine were shelled by their new friends.
But now the West smells an opportunity to counter the newfound Russian confidence to throw its weight around the region. The rhetoric is now of “international terrorism” and the promise of heavy sanctions against Russia. This really is karmic irony for Putin, who constantly invoked “fighting international terrorism” when overseeing brutal and destructive measures in Chechnya.
“Vladimir Putin can stop this war” was the editorial catch-cry of the New York Times on 17 July. It is not at all clear that he can. He has clear sympathies with the separatists, and Russia has increased aid as they have been beaten back by the advancing Ukrainian army. But the events in Ukraine have a dynamic of their own. Were Putin to order the separatists to stand down or surrender, it is far from guaranteed that they would do so – not that this is likely to faze the other imperialists. Certainly neither side is actually interested in stopping the bloodshed.
Nevertheless, as Russian socialist Ilya Budraitskis writes, “The room for manoeuvre for Russian foreign policy suddenly, in the space of a few seconds, disappeared – somewhere above Donbass, 10,000 metres above the ground.”
Putin is now faced with a direct challenge and the question of whether he will openly oppose or side with the separatists. The option of siding with them seems all but suicidal. The game of brinksmanship is likely to continue for some time. And we will see endless crocodile tears from those whose only goal is to waste more lives in the pursuit of power and influence.
A new world
The conflict in Ukraine shines a spotlight on changes in global imperialist relations. Since the collapse of the USSR, the US has been the world’s undisputed imperialist power. Yet its incursions in Iraq and Afghanistan have left it weakened. Russia has at least partially recovered from its economic collapse in the 1990s, and is starting to challenge Western interference in its sphere of influence. The rising powerhouse of China also has imperialist ambitions. Where these intersect, Russia and China have found in each other useful allies – as in the signing of a deal for a new $400 billion deal to pipe natural gas to China.
Russia has supported the Syrian butcher Assad, forged new relations with Saudi Arabia and created a new customs union to bring closer its former Eastern European satellites. Together with the other so-called BRICS countries, Russia has recently signed a deal for a new development bank to counter the influence of the World Bank and the IMF.
The recent conflagration in Iraq is resulting in a realignment of imperialist alliances. And a host of small and medium-sized imperialist powers are beginning to jostle for influence. More regional conflicts are flaring up, aided by the protracted global economic crisis.
This portends little but further misery and death as the imperialist generals wage their battles. The only hope is for popular uprisings and revolutions which can put an end to this infernal setup.